The Five Civic Guard Paintings

Between 1616 and 1639 Frans Hals painted 5 enormous civic guard paintings for 2 Haarlem militias: the Civic Guard of St George and the Calivermen, who were also known as the Civic Guard of St Adrian. A mammoth task, because these 5 canvasses alone contain no fewer than 68 portraits of 61 different prominent Haarlem citizens, plus one dog.

The officers were appointed by the town council for 3 years. When they stepped down, they were honoured with a banquet. 3 of Hals’s 5 civic guard paintings depict just such a banquet. The officers were not eligible for immediate reappointment; they had to wait for 3 years before they could be appointed again. The rank of the officers can often be deduced from the position they occupy in the painting or from their weapons.

Hals’s first civic guard painting: the officers of the Civic Guard of St George at their farewell banquet.

Frans Hals has used a straightforward composition to show the hierarchy among the officers. The tip of the flag is the top of an imaginary pyramid within which the officers are ranged. On the left at the head of the table sits the colonel, with the provost marshal on his right. They are the highest-ranking officers. Then come the 3 captains and finally the 3 lieutenants. Around them stand the 3 ensigns and the servant.

2 ensigns in this painting, Boudewijn van Offenberg and Jacob Schout, were still ensigns in 1627, and also appear in the painting of the Civic Guard of St George dating from 1627. The ensigns carry the flags of the Civic Guard of St George, blue and yellow che-quers at the top, and red and white stripes at the bottom, with the arms of Haarlem in the centre.

The seated captain in the foreground is Nicolaes van der Meer. Frans Hals painted his portrait again in 1631, together with that of his wife, Cornelia Vooght.

This is the Portrait of Nicolaes van der Meer that Frans Hals painted in 1631.

The officers who served in the Civic Guard of St George from 1624 to 1627 attend their farewell banquet.

The officers and ensigns wear sashes in the colours of their company: white, orange or blue. The place of honour, in the foreground and at the head of the table, is occupied by the colonel, Aernout Druyvesteyn. A place in the foreground is also reserved for Ensign Boudewijn van Offenberg, Captain Michiel de Wael and Captain Nicolaes le Febure. It was these men who in 1625 had taken part in an expedition of both Haarlem Civic Guards to Heusden in North Brabant to provide reinforcements. Their participation in this ‘action’ may have prompted the commissioning of this group portrait.

Captain Le Febure, all the way on the right, is shown standing so that it is not obvious just how short he was.

The painting portrays the 11 officers of the Calivermen at their farewell banquet. In the background stands the servant, Willem Ruychaver. On the left at the head of the table sits the colonel, Willem Claesz Vooght. He can be recognized by his orange sash. Next to him sits the Fiscal, Johan Damius, who is being handed a glass.
The composition of the painting is balanced and carefully thought out. The members of the Civic Guard are divided into 2 groups linked in the composition by the officer with the knife: he belongs to the group on the right, but looks to the left. The position of officer in the Civic Guard was an honorary unpaid post. These posts were reserved for a small group of influential, well-to-do Haarlem citizens.

On the far left stands Ensign Adriaen Matham, draughtsman and engraver. In 1634 he was a witness at the baptism of Frans Hals’s daughter Suzanna.

A striking note is the dog at his feet; this is the only dog in any of the Haarlem civic guard portraits.

Officers and sergeants of the Calivermen meeting outdoors. The highest in rank are positioned in the foreground: the colonel, captains and lieutenants. The sergeants are allocated a place behind the table; this is the first time that Frans Hals also portrayed non-commissioned officers.
The two groups in the composition are linked by Lieutenant Jacob Buttinga centre, sitting in front of the table. He belongs to the group on the left, with the colonel as the central point, but turns to Van Hoorn, who is at the centre of the right-hand group.
The officers of the guard carry the weapons that accompany their posts: the colonel leans on his commander’s staff, the captains carry pikes with tassels, and the sergeants have halberds.

Captain Johan Schatter, standing in the middle, had been a captain in the Calivermen before. He is also depicted in the Civic Guard portrait of the Calivermen dating from 1627. Colonel Johan Claesz Loo, sitting on the left, also appear in the civic guard portrait of 1639.

The painting must originally have been much more colourful. This is particularly evident in the trees in the background: they were once green but have discoloured to brown over the centuries.

This Civic Guard portrait illustrates yet again how the important posts in the city rotated among a few prominent, wealthy families. Colonel Johan Claesz Loo, Left side looking left, owned the brewery De Drie Leliën and was also a member of Haarlem town council. From 1630 to 1633 he was colonel of the Calivermen. Sergeant Nicolaes Loo, right above the colonel, was the colonel’s son. He also had a brewery: ’t Hoeffijser. The colonel’s son-in-law, Florens van der Hoef, in the middle with the orange sash, was a captain. He was a councillor, sheriff and burgomaster, and held various posts in the Civic Guard. Captain Nicolaes Grauwert, right to Van der Hoef, was the colonel’s brother-in-law. He, similarly, was a councillor and sheriff.

Tradition has it that the second figure from the left in the back row is Frans Hals himself. It is true that Hals had been a member of the Civic Guard since 1612, but ordinary members never appeared in Civic Guard portraits. It would therefore have been an extraordinary privilege if this is indeed the portrait of Frans Hals. Perhaps he was allowed to give himself a place amidst the officers and sergeants because he had already painted five large group portraits of the civic guard.

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